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Community-owned energy offers investment opportunities for all

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 31 July 2012 at 10:18 am

Banks are not the flavour of the month, and interest rates on traditional savings aren't attractive, so is investment in renewable energy a viable alternative? Even if you haven't got a suitable site (or the cash) to generate electricity yourself, you can benefit from the feed-in tariff, by investing in a community energy scheme.

Community-owned energy generation is something that most of us here in the UK have not encountered. That's not the case in other European countries - particularly those which have a much higher proportion of renewable energy generation than we do. In Germany 25% of all renewable energy generation is owned by community projects. In Denmark most towns and villages have their own community-owned scheme.

If we moved to more community-owned schemes in the UK, with local people benefiting from the electricity generated, and having a stake in them, there might be a significant reduction opposition to them at the planning stage. Instead ownership is dominated by the big six energy companies.

The good news is that there are more and more opportunities to invest in community renewables. Today is the last day for investment in Westmill Solar Cooperative - a 4MW solar farm project in Wiltshire. It generates a massive 4.8GWh of electricity a year - enough to power 1,400 homes. It is open for investments of between £250 and £20,000 until midnight today. You can read an independent view of the risks and benefits here.

Across the Irish Sea, Drumlin Wind Energy Co-operative is the first community owned project in Northern Ireland. It launched its share offer on 25 June, hopes to raise £3.4m for five 25kW wind turbines by 21 September and expects to pay an average of 10.3% interest per year (with EIS) over 20 years. You can become a member of the co-op by investing any amount between £250 and £20,000. Priority will be given to people living in Northern Ireland. As well as rewarding investors, each turbine in the co-op will commit £2,000 per year to support local environmental and social projects in the local area.

The Drumlin scheme is working with Energy4All, the leading voluntary organisation supporting community-owned renewable energy schemes. It pioneered its model with the Baywind Energy Co-operative and is one of the winners of this year's prestigious Ashden Awards.

Other models of funding and community ownership are also beginning to appear. Abundance Generation is an FSA regulated platform that enables small investors to support renewable energy projects. Its first offer of debenture shares aims to raise £1.4m for a 500kW wind turbine in the Forest of Dean, by the end of September 2012. The effective rate of return is expected to be between 6.75 and 8%. It is also taking pledges on five other projects which are still under development. These offers are wide open, with a minimum possible investment of £5 and maximum of £50,000. Abundance co-founder Bruce Davis is the entrepreneur behind the popular microfinance website, Zopa.

Also on the horizon is Microgenius. The detail of how it will work is not clear yet, but investors and community renewables projects can sign up to receive updates.

Community energy projects are welcome to announce details of their share offers on our community investment page. Use the contact us page to get in touch. 

Disclosure: I have made a personal investment in Westmill Solar Co-operative.

Photo: Westmill Solar Co-operative


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